NAACP lawsuit challenges voting system claiming at-large voting system violates rights of minorities

BATON ROUGE – A local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has filed suit against several state elected officials claiming that the at-large voting process for judicial candidates in Terrebonne Parish runs afoul of the Voting Rights Act. Terrebonne Parish Branch NAACP, Reverend Vincent Fusilier Sr., Lionel Myers, Wendell Desmond Shelby Jr. and Daniel Turner filed suit against Piyush “Bobby” Jindal, Governor of the State of Louisiana in his official capacity; James D. Buddy Caldwell, Attorney General of the State of Louisiana in his official capacity and Tom Schedler, Secretary of State of the State of Louisiana in his official capacity in the United States Court for the Middle District of Louisiana. The plaintiffs claim that the use of an at-large voting mechanism for judicial candidates in Terrebonne Parish essentially results in depriving the rights of minority voters casting votes in elections for minority candidates running for the five judgeships that comprise the 32nd Judicial District Court. Although the population of Terrebonne Parish is comprised of a 20 percent African-American population, the plaintiffs claim that because candidates for judge are not broken down into districts the minority population’s vote is diluted and as a result there has never been a black judge or black-preferred candidate elected in Terrebonne Parish in its 191 years of existence. By allowing the at-large voting system to remain in place the plaintiffs allege the defendants have directly contributed to violations of the Voting Rights Act by weakening the voting power of minorities and violating rights provided in the 14th and 15th amendments of the U.S. Constitution. In the lawsuit, the Terrebonne Parish NAACP says it has spent more than 16 years attempting, to no avail, to have the at-large voting method for the parish changed and that legal precedents have already been made in other parts of Louisiana in which at-large voting systems were found to be discriminatory. Plaintiffs Fusilier, Myers, Shelby and Turner are all black registered voters in Terrebonne Parish who claim that the current system of voting has deprived them of voting rights. The elected officials listed as defendants were chosen based on their duty to ensure that the constitution is followed. The plaintiffs seek to have the at-large system changed to allow for a district voting method for judicial candidates that would include the creation of at least one minority majority district. The plaintiffs are represented by Ronald L. Wilson of New Orleans-based Scheuermann & Jones LLC. The case has been assigned to Judge James J. Brady. Case no. 3:14-cv-69.

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